Rarely has a changing of the guard been so absolute, so startling — and yes, it must be said — so utterly unexpected.
But a new day has clearly dawned in Canadian ladies’ skating. And with that, a level of faith and optimism in the overall state of the discipline not seen within the borders of that nation in quite some time.
There they were, sharing the podium at the recent Canadian Championships: a trio of teenagers with the talent to take on the world and, most importantly, the attitude to go along with it. No shrinking violets found among this group, that’s for sure.
“Times are changing,” said Kaetlyn Osmond, the spirited 17-year-old who took a nation and the skating world by storm in winning her first national title in January. “A few years ago, there was no one landing triple-triples in Canada and now more people are trying them.
“If you take chances, you do risk making mistakes more often than if you keep it safe and do what you know you can do. But if you’re confident in what you’re doing then taking those risks and executing those elements well, you can expect a lot more higher placements.”
It is a mindset that exists throughout this current generation of ladies.
You’ll hear much of the same tone from the spunky Gabrielle Daleman, the 2012 Canadian junior champion who arrived at nationals certain that a medal was within her reach in her senior debut. And from 16-year-old Alaine Chartrand, who soared onto the podium after placing ninth in 2012.
“Everyone asks us what we need to do to get to where we want to go,” said Daleman, 15, of Newmarket, Ont. “You’ve got to do the hard tricks to get to where you want to be. You need to take risks to get stuff ... It was a big inspiration for me last year when I saw Kaetlyn do the triple-triple. I said to myself ‘I need to do that.’”
While the casual observer might see the likes of Daleman and Chartrand as coming out of nowhere, those who oversee the sport in Canada will tell you otherwise.
“We weren’t surprised by what we saw at nationals,” said Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada’s high performance director. “We saw that coming and we’re going to have more coming up that pipeline, so it’s encouraging.
“Kaetlyn coming on the way she did last year really ignited a fire under a lot of skaters, and they now want to be there, too. We’ve had that a lot in men’s skating and now we’re seeing it in ladies. It’s exciting.”
Indeed, the meteoric rise of Osmond in the last 12 months has given many Canadian ladies reason to believe their time will come.
The native of Marystown, N.L., was a surprise bronze medalist at the 2012 nationals, then followed that up with a 10th-place finish at the subsequent World Junior Championships.
But the real eye opener came last October, when Osmond stunned a top-quality field at Skate Canada International, by winning the gold medal in her senior Grand Prix debut.
Now, many young Canadian ladies believe that they can also make their mark on the World scene...and their goals have shifted with that trend.
“When we strategized for this season, I tried to figure out what we had to do to be in the top 10 at Worlds, not just win nationals,” said Ravi Walia, who coaches Osmond at the Ice Palace Figure Skating Club in Edmonton. “It was always ‘what are they doing internationally?’”
Said Chartrand, of Prescott, Ont.: “We all did really well on the junior Grand Prix circuit, all three of us. Now we know what it’s like in the world and we have to look into the future with that in mind.”
The true benchmark for this group now lies in the weeks ahead.
Daleman and Chartrand are headed to the 2013 Junior Worlds in Milan, Italy, which runs Feb. 25-March 3.
Ten days later, it’ll be Osmond’s turn at 2013 Worlds in London, Ont. (she recently placed seventh at the Four Continents Championships in Osaka, Japan).
“That’s how we look at the skaters,” said Slipchuk. “We look at Kaetlyn and yeah, she’s the national champion, but we’re looking at where she fits in on the world scene. That’s what is important. Same with the ones who go to junior Worlds — can they crack the top 10?
“Kaetlyn did that last year. Everyone forgets that’s where it started for her. She went to junior Worlds, and junior Worlds is a big event. You can make a big statement there.”
All eyes around the country will surely be on Osmond in London, for a top-10 finish there will mean Canada can send two ladies to the 2014 Olympic Winter Games and the World Championships that follow in Tokyo.
It would be a watershed moment for the future — Canada last sent two women to the Olympic Winter Games in 1994 (Lillehammer, Norway). Four years later, that number dwindled to zero in Nagano, Japan.
At the 2010 Games, however, Joannie Rochette — the idol of many in the current generation of Canadian ladies’ skaters — put the maple leaf back on the podium at the Winter Olympics for the first time in 22 years, her bronze medal a long-awaited follow-up to Elizabeth Manley’s silver in 1988.
Now it’s up to this “generation next” to take it a step further. Osmond’s triumph at Skate Canada offered up the right kind of hope for Canadian skating, which has been anxiously awaiting a worthy successor to Rochette, a six-time national champion.
“You often see other countries at the top,” said Osmond. “Seeing that Canada can be at the top, too, makes you really confident in what you’re doing and know that it is possible for someone from here to make it to that level.”